Henry Gomez still sees himself as a PR person, even if his title doesn't say as such.
As GM of Skype North America, Gomez is charged with turning the Scandinavian Internet telephony company, already a phenomenon in Europe and Asia, into a power Stateside.
Internet telephony, which allows users to make phone calls over their computers, is perhaps one of the biggest changes and challenges to the way people make phone calls to occur in quite some time. It's Gomez's job to make it a way of life.
And that's where his PR background comes in. Just as eBay helped change the way people shop, Skype will ideally change the way people make phone calls. So it makes sense that eBay acquired Skype in September and that Gomez left his job as SVP of corporate communications and government relations at eBay to tackle the next big thing.
"A great deal of what needs to be accomplished is about PR and word of mouth," says Gomez. "A lot of our plan will center around PR and other activities that create word of mouth. These are things I've done my whole career."
Gomez was attracted to the opportunity to grow beyond PR, yet still call upon his nearly 20 years in communications. What made this appealing was the chance to dive into everything from business development to "making sure the lights are on in the new office. Hopefully, I'll answer the question as to whether a PR person can run a business," he says.
Liz Kaplow, president and CEO of Kaplow Communications, has worked with Gomez since 1999. She says he has always taken an approach that goes deeper into understanding business objectives and goals.
"He has a deep intellect and strategic approach that allows him to drill down and cut through the clutter to get to the heart of the matter," she says. "That ability will serve him well at Skype."
A PR pro moving into the business side is rare. It's perhaps more common for marketing execs. But Gomez likes his prospects.
"It's been a fairly natural transition for me," says Gomez. "There are a lot of similarities to eBay. It's a very good fit. There aren't too many operating jobs I can think of where a PR person could make the move. It's probably hard for communications folks to go into full-blown operating jobs. But this was custom-made for me."
Gomez has always taken a holistic approach, working closely with executives to understand business decisions, says Chris Donlay, VP of corporate and international communications at eBay, who worked with Gomez at eBay and HBO.
"He really can see the bigger picture," notes Donlay. "He knows how to take a brand and make it big."
So much of Gomez's initial job is relying on his PR acumen. Without much money for a traditional advertising or marketing blitz, PR will be at the forefront of all efforts to make Skype a household name in the US. PR is what made eBay a household name, and Gomez anticipates pioneering similar ground with Skype.
But voice over Internet protocol isn't the easiest sell, particularly when the media use acronyms such as VOIP. Gomez says the term sounds like a disease, and it will not be a part of any Skype marketing.
Europe and Asia have traditionally been more open to adopting new technologies, so Skype was not a tough sell there. But in the US, where people have spent more than 100 years making calls the same way, Gomez doesn't anticipate as receptive an audience.
But then Americans have pretty much been shopping the same way for decades, and online shopping sites such as eBay have totally changed that. It's a challenge Gomez looks forward to.
"This has been re-energizing," says Gomez. "When you're in PR, you often think about what you would do to run your client's business - how would I run product marketing? How would I run business development? Now I'm actually doing these things."
Skype North America, GM
March 2000-January 2006
Ebay, corporate comms VP (March 2000-March 2005); SVP of corporate comms and government relations (March 2005-January 2006)
July 1996-March 2000
HBO. Various posts from affiliate PR director to VP of corporate affairs